Football fans everywhere have been saying that this season’s Premier League has thus far been the best ever. Over the past decade however, in terms of excitement and sheer unpredictability, the Premier League hasn’t even been the best league in England. So what makes this year so different? There hasn’t been a huge glut in goals – at this point last year,only seven fewer goals had been scored. On the other hand, the number of high-scoring, high-profile games has been an exception, and there are a number of reasons why.
People have lazily branded Chelsea manager Andre Vilas-Boas as the new Jose Mourinho, but tactically he couldn’t be more different. Under Vilas-Boas Chelsea press high all over the pitch, holding a high line to suffocate the opposition – something completely anathema to Mourinho when he was at Chelsea. Such a high line was one of the main reasons they conceded five at home to Arsenal, where a slow, high defence came up against the pace of Theo Walcott and Gervinho., while even the unglamourous Grant Holt of Norwich caused them problems by often getting in behind the defence. While Chelsea epitomise this trend, Manchester United’s decision not to play a defensive midfielder sitting in front of the defence has also caused them to play higher up the pitch too.
A well-worn cliché used after the thrilling 1-0 victory for QPR over Chelsea several weeks ago was that it was “a brilliant advert for the Premier League”. If a complete lack of discipline on the one hand and a remarkable inability to keep possession on the other is what the League wanted to advertise then Chelsea and QPR respectively did a fairly good job, but what that game did emphasise is the higher number of red cards we have seen this season. The average number of red cards per game over the past five seasons has flirted around 0.15. This season, there have been just over 0.2 red cards a game – and in some of the biggest fixtures too. Liverpool conceded four against Spurs when they were down to nine men, while Manchester United played with ten men for 35 minutes against Manchester City. Both teams were chasing the game, and so inevitably the scoreline boomed.
Coincidentally, it so happens that the top teams in the league have morphed into more potent attacking units, while simultaneously becoming weaker defensively. Also, in the last five years the Premier League has lost managers Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho who both based of their approaches on conceding fewer goals than the opposition rather than scoring more. Manchester United’s acquisition of strikers and wingers over the last three years has led to a more open approach – they had conceded the most shots on goal in the league (97) after six weeks in, which is remarkable for the defending champions. Now that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have left Arsenal, their focal point of attack is striker Robin van Persie, so they naturally move the ball quicker up the field, resulting in chances being created more at speed for both teams. Roberto Mancini’s evolution of Manchester City is nearly complete, with this season seeing a more potent counter-attacking aspect to their team. All of this has resulted in an incredible 29 goals in the four matches between the Champions League clubs in the league.